Face masks are less effective than sunglasses in masking face identity

Charles C-F OR, Kester Y. J. NG, Yiik CHIA, Jing Han KOH, Denise YIM, Alan L. F. LEE

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


The effect of covering faces on face identification is recently garnering interest amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Here, we investigated how face identification performance was affected by two types of face disguise: sunglasses and face masks. Observers studied a series of faces; then judged whether a series of test faces, comprising studied and novel faces, had been studied before or not. Face stimuli were presented either without coverings (full faces), wearing sunglasses covering the upper region (eyes, eyebrows), or wearing surgical masks covering the lower region (nose, mouth, chin). We found that sunglasses led to larger reductions in sensitivity (d’) to face identity than face masks did, while both disguises increased the tendency to report faces as studied before, a bias that was absent for full faces. In addition, faces disguised during either study or test only (i.e. study disguised faces, test with full faces; and vice versa) led to further reductions in sensitivity from both studying and testing with disguised faces, suggesting that congruence between study and test is crucial for memory retrieval. These findings implied that the upper region of the face, including the eye-region features, is more diagnostic for holistic face-identity processing than the lower face region.
Original languageEnglish
Article number4284
Number of pages1
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Early online date15 Mar 2023
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by NTU CoHASS Start-Up Grant, CoHASS Incentive Schemes, and Singapore MOE AcRF Tier 1 Grant 2018-T1-001-069 and 2019-T1-001-064 to C.O., and 2019-T1-001-060 to C.O. & A.L. D.L. was a recipient of the SGUnited Traineeships Programme. Y.C. and J.K. were supported by NTU’s Undergraduate Research Experience on Campus programme. All emojis were modified from designs by OpenMoji under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, The Author(s).


  • COVID-19/prevention & control
  • Facial Recognition
  • Humans
  • Masks
  • Memory
  • Pandemics


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